What Cancun can do

It is understandable but unhelpful to make the coming Mexico summit on world development seem to rise and set in relation to the United States. Everyone wants to know whether the richest of the rich nations intends to reassert leadership in helping out the poor. But what the needy nations do about their own policies and practices is more important to their development than what is done by the US -- or by the major industrial countries determined to proceed with or without the US. As the October meeting of 22 industrial and developing nations approaches, the focus must be broadened. It should be wide enough to remind the public that thequestion is not only how much the donor countries can give -- and get -- but how the recipient countries can foster the best use of aid and their own development.

Last weekend's preparatory meeting of foreign ministers of Cancun was encouraging in several respects. It reportedly signaled a more forthcoming Reagan administration attitude toward international negotiation of so- called North-South issues, an attitude to be tested later when the next global round of talks occurs under United Nations auspices. Though it was agreed that there be no negotiation or formal agenda at the summit, there was agreement that topics would include such urgent matters as energy, trade, financing, raw materials, and agricultural development. Though the summit was specified not to have a formal link with the later global round, it, was given a main objective of facilitating agreement with regard to that round.

Foreign Minister Cheysson of France touched one key point when he said that countries like West Germany, Japan, and his own were convinced that the best chances for growth in the industrial world are to be found in the third world. Secretary Haig of the US recognized that the priority placed on US economic recovery as a support for foreign policy cannot defer the question of international cooperation. He expressed a concept that ought to be vigorously pursued when he spoke of a "new beginning" that would reject the North (developed) vs. South (undeveloped) confrontation. After all, international development should not be a zero-sum game but one that benefits all. he went to the heart of it when he spoke of "shared commitment and acceptance of shared responsibility for mutual benefit."

This is where what the developing as well as developed nations can do comes in again. In some places price controls on food reduce farmers' earnings; lifting them could spur more homegrown food. In some places the system of transportation needs improvement; it costs more to ship corn to Kenya's back country from Nairobi than to Nairobi from the US. Examples could be multiplied. This does not absolve the developed countries from altering trade or other practices that weight unfarily on developing lands. But it suggests that Cancun needs to be seen as a summit about more than the nuances of Reagan policy as it meets up with the world.

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